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Ellie Mobile Libraries

Thursday 1 December 2011, by Gilles Maurer

Reading is not common practise amongst the local people of the Lao PDR, illiteracy is high among rural communities, whilst resources remain scarce and when available are often uninspiring.

Working in partnership with non-governmental organisations Room to Read and Action with Lao Children, and private business Xang Noi, ElefantAsia has implemented the Elephant Mobile Libraries to promote literacy within schools in rural Sayaboury province in northern Laos.

The Elephant Mobile Libraries take an innovative approach to encourage literacy within schoolchildren by distributing Lao language resources using retired logging elephants. Capable of carrying up to 150kg, this making for a lot of books, delivery with elephants has dual purpose. Agile, elephants are able to access remote areas where roads and access routes are nonexistent allowing the Mobile Libraries to reach those schools most in need, whilst interaction with the elephants increases knowledge of the endangered species and understanding of elephant behaviour amongst both young people and local communities, this being particularly beneficial in areas experiencing human-elephant conflict.

ElefantAsia and partners conducted their first Elephant Mobile Library mission in 2010 in Sayaboury province and have since visited many rural schools across several districts within the province. Covering four schools over five days, elephants become ambassadors of knowledge distributing resources generously provided by organisations such as Room to Read, Action with Lao Children and Xang Noi, together with ElefantAsia’s own book ‘Xang Phuan Keo’ an elephant book designed for children. One mission can reach up to 900 children meaning the Asian elephant is perceived in a positive light by many young minds.

An extended trunk presents each child with a storybook whilst an additional selection of books, packs of learning cards and a selection of posters including ElefantAsia’s series of three elephant posters are also presented to each school. Environmental awareness is also actively promoted through the implementation of activities based on a ‘fun and learn’ philosophy while visiting each school. After receiving their books many of the children attentively read each page where they stand, whilst others simply clutch their book to their chest like the prized possession which in most cases it is, with the book likely being the first item the child has ever owned.

In Sayaboury, the heartland of the Lao elephant, elephants are a way of life, yet on hearing the tinkle of the elephant’s bell; families stop what they were doing and walk to the entrance of their homes and watch the elephants pass. Small children excitedly run to the fence line shouting ‘Xang, xang, xang’, the word meaning elephant. The reaction from communities and the involvement of villagers during the Elephant Mobile Libraries instills a sense of the nations pride for their Asian elephant and the importance of the species to their culture.

A donation of €40 will allow ElefantAsia to purchase approximately 40 - 50 Lao language books to distribute during future Elephant Mobile Libraries, thus promoting literacy within rural schoolchildren and increasing awareness of the endangered Asian elephant in rural areas of Laos.

NB One five day mission attending four schools costs approximately €1,650

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